Almost a year-and-a-half after Uzbek government troops killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in Andijan, it once again assumed the appearance of an occupied city, amid President Islam Karimov's purge of the regional governor. The president's reliance on heavy-handed methods suggests that behind the façade of authoritarian control, the Karimov administration is nervous about its hold on power.
Karimov engineered the ouster of Andijan's governor, Saidullo Begaliyev, during a special session of the provincial council, or Kengash, on October 13. In Begaliyev's place, the president installed one of his most trusted security lieutenants, Akhmad Usmanov, who previously headed the Interior Ministry's security operations in neighboring Namangan Province. Usmanov, who has also served as deputy interior minister, has extensive experience in combating Islamic radicals in the Ferghana Valley. In addition, Karimov apparently authorized the transfer of another former Andijan governor, Kobiljon Obidov, from house arrest to confinement in a Tashkent prison.
Local residents say the mood in Andijan on the day of the purge was reminiscent of the aftermath of events of May 13, 2005, when troops opened fire without warning on protesters gathered in Babur Square. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"The streets were flooded by the police and soldiers again, like in May a year ago and May two years ago," said a resident of the city, who refused to give even his first name fearing repercussions. "He [Karimov] is afraid of his own nation."
Local residents drew many parallels in the ways both Begaliyev and Obidov, ousted by Karimov in 2004, met their political ends. In both cases, the president traveled to Andijan to attend a Kengash session that was convened specifically to authorize a reshuffle of authority. Many of the same reasons used to justify Obidov's removal were also applied to Begaliyev's case, including "indifference to the population's needs" and an overbearing "administrative-command management style."
Karimov also tacitly admitted that abuses committed by local authorities played a major role in stoking the 2005 violence in Andijan. Those who fomented the popular protest in Andijan on May 13 "made use of local authorities' short-sighted policy," the Itar-Tass news agency quoted Karimov as saying.
Uzbek authorities maintain that the Andijan events were stoked by Islamic militants associated with a radical group, known as Akromiya. That Karimov felt a need to reshuffle the provincial leadership undermines this official claim. It also enhances the credence of accounts compiled by international human rights organizations, which assert that the Andijan massacre was rooted in the malfeasance and corruption inherent in Uzbekistan's clan-based political system. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The chain of events that led to the Andijan massacre began with Obidov's removal in 2004, and the subsequent arrests and trial of 23 local entrepreneurs, who had been closely allied with the ousted governor. Begaliyev, the then newly appointed governor, reportedly tried to shakedown the 23 entrepreneurs. They resisted, so he had them arrested. When it appeared that the 23 would end up with court convictions and prison terms, friends and relatives of the entrepreneurs are said to have staged an armed prison break, which spiraled out of control, culminating in the "stunning use of excessive force" by government forces on May 13, 2005. The 23 entrepreneurs, who were accused of formally engaging in banned Islamic radical activities, steadfastly denied any involvement with Islamic militants. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
At least some of the 23 entrepreneurs, who enjoyed widespread popularity in the city for their various philanthropic activities, allegedly engaged in nefarious dealings with Obidov. Two of the 23 entrepreneurs were members of the Ibragimov clan in Andijan, one of the area's most prominent families. In 2004, the Andijan branch of the human rights organization Ezgulik uncovered evidence that Shakirjon Ibragimov had been directly involved in Obidov's plan to convert a residential area in the city center into a commercial district. Those displaced by the conversion were deprived of their civil rights, and many were reportedly not compensated properly for the loss of their homes and businesses. The Ibragimovs were reportedly granted most of the cleared space in the district for their trade center, one of the largest in the city. The incident was also mentioned by Talib Yakubov's Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan in its June 2004 report.
In return for economic preferences, the city's business elite reportedly presented Obidov a house and fully equipped his office, along with other favors. Begaliyev's rise to power in Andijan placed a different clan in charge of the province's political machinery. The local entrepreneurs attempted to forge a similar relationship with Begaliyev as they had enjoyed with Obidov, but the new governor is said to have rejected the overtures, and instead signaled a desire to gain a direct interest in many of the businesses operated by the entrepreneurs.
It was not immediately clear whether Karimov intends to limit the political makeover in Andijan to Begaliyev's removal, or if additional changes are in the offing. A government source, meanwhile, confirmed that Obidov is now housed in a Tashkent jail. The reason for his transfer is unknown, but the fact that it coincided with Begaliyev's dismissal suggests the two developments are linked. Some local observers believe Uzbek investigators may have come up with new findings connected to the Andijan events that prompted the moves.